A Leader’s Journey into Engaging Families

communityGetting parents involved with the Girl Scout troop benefits girls, leaders, and families. Leaders with involved troop parents can better meet the needs of girls and their families. More hands to help means that the entire troop can accomplish more during the year. Girls take pride in sharing their experience with their parents and may be more likely to make a long-term investment to scouting. Despite the benefits, many leaders will tell you that engaging families can be one of the biggest challenges in running a troop.

Leader Lisa Brown and her co-leader, Kathy Walters, have had great success with getting and keeping parents involved. Here Lisa shares some experiences and ideas that have worked for them:

Make them part of the process: When we first formed as a troop in kindergarten this sounded impossible, since all of the parents in our troop worked, including me and my co-leader. Because we really didn’t know where to begin, we decided to start the year with a “Parent Meeting/Girl Play date” to get ideas from the other parents about what they wanted out of Girl Scouts for their daughter. We held the meeting on a closed-in playground so that we could talk and not have to worry about the girls going too far away. At that meeting, we figured out things like how often we wanted to meet, what we wanted to do about selling cookies, and what sorts of activities we would focus on. Getting the families involved at the beginning of the year helped get them invested in helping the troop. We have continued our annual September parent meeting/girl play date every year since we formed and most parents come to help sketch out the year.

Keep communication open: In addition to the annual parent meeting, we also send an email summary of after each troop meeting within a few days. We try to highlight any special contributions that particular girls made and give an overview of what we worked on. We generally do badge work at meetings, but our troop is also very interested in community service, so we let them know what the girls are interested in doing outside the meeting projects. Feedback from parents is that the summaries make them feel connected to the troop and feel good about their daughter’s involvement in Girl Scouts.

Assign roles: Another thing that helps keep parents involved is to have roles for the non-leader parents. We have an excellent Cookie mom, who keeps us on track with our cookie sales. Last year she needed some help and got a few “assistant cookie moms” to help with things like cookie pick up and running the cookie booth.

We have a parent who is a CPA who has been doing our financials since the end of our first year, when we suddenly realized we needed to submit an end of year report. She meets with me and my co-leader a few times a year to collect receipts and make sure we are documenting our spending and cookie earnings.

Another important role we have is “field trip parent”. One of the troop parents is first aid/CPR certified for her job, which is required for some of the field trips. Our field trip parent goes through the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts event listings and periodically sends out things that people might want to sign up for. Last year we went to GSEM events at Chocolate Therapy in Framingham and Mad Science in Waltham. This year a bunch of us are going on the Pizza Tour in the North End and to a program about rescuing stranded ocean animals on Cape Cod. These trips are not during our normal meeting, and they are completely voluntary. We tell the parents that we expect the parent to sign their child up if they want to go, and unless they make other arrangements we expect each child to have a parent with them. The girls who are interested in doing Girl Scouts more than our once a month meeting enjoy the opportunity to do different activities during the month and meet other Girl Scouts from around the state.

Invite them to do very specific things at meetings: At one of the leader meetings, a leader mentioned that when when her troop became Brownies she had the girls go through the Girl’s Guide book and pick out a badge they would like to lead with their mom or dad. As you know, Brownie Badges are nice, self contained units that can be achieved in one or two meetings. There are very specific steps, and suggested activities, so it is not too hard for a family to take the information for a particular badge and plan activities that will fulfill the requirements.

When we became Brownies, we decided to offer all of the girls the chance to lead a badge  (completely optional). We were amazed that so many of the girls wanted to do it. Each girl goes through the book with their parent and picks something they are interested in. We have the book out at the end of each meeting, so any girl who wants to go through it gets a chance to see what the choices are. Once they pick a badge, the parent emails us to ask for a meeting date to lead, and we send out a schedule when we send out meeting reminders or meeting summaries.

Last year one of the girls led us through the First Aid Badge, which we did in two meetings; this included a tour of the Fire Station. Another parent whose daughter is a dancer, coordinated with the Dancing Arts Center and hosted us there to earn the Dancer Badge. Other girls led us through the Bug Badge and the Inventor Badge, which we did right at the Holliston Library. As troop leaders, we found it to be a great change of pace for the girls. The parents were able to access resources and had ideas that we would not have had. With only one badge to plan, they put a lot of creative thought into what they did. We emphasized that the girl was leading the badge, since a major tenet of Girl Scouts is to develop leadership skills, but at this age, it really was a partnership between parent and daughter in pretty much every case and it seemed like most really bonded over planning their badge.

Other great ways to have troop parents help: There are a lot of one time activities that troop parents can do that don’t take a big commitment. Our troop parents always help us man our cookie booth. This is actually one of the activities that we get at least as many dads as moms to volunteer.

We also walk from the elementary school to the library for troop meetings. A parent usually volunteers to drive the backpacks over, and sometimes other parents will walk with us.

Another parent runs a Shutterfly website for our troop where we can all post our pictures.

One awesome mom (former Girl Scout), volunteered to do the Girl Scout camping training in preparation for the Holliston Encampment next June.